Army restores order as mourners bury victims
Beirut, Lebanon ? The army restored order in the Lebanese capital Friday as mourners buried victims of a bloody student clash that took a dangerous sectarian tone, prompting leaders to appeal for calm in an effort to keep the country from sliding deeper into violence.
A rare curfew in Beirut was lifted early Friday, imposed after factions supporting the Western-backed government and Hezbollah protesters trying to bring it down turned a university campus into a battle zone a day earlier.
At least three people were killed and dozens injured after mobs faced off with homemade clubs and stones. Army officers reported snipers opening fire during the melee.
The violence eclipsed a major achievement a continent away – an international donors’ conference in Paris raised some $7.6 billion to help rebuild Lebanon’s economy, ravaged after last summer’s 34-day war between Hezbollah and Israel.
Embattled Prime Minister Fuad Saniora returned to Lebanon on Friday and urged leaders to work toward ending the political deadlock “because remaining as we are is frightening.”
Saniora’s closest ally, Sunni leader Saad Hariri, also said late Friday he was ready to work with his foes for a settlement.
“The world has stood by us. It is not acceptable that we let ourselves, our brothers and friends down. It is a waste to let the results of Paris … be threatened by the internal storm,” he said.
Talks between the Hezbollah-led opposition and Saniora’s government broke down in November over the militant group’s demands for greater power, which was emboldened after it survived Israel’s onslaught on Lebanon during the summer war.
Hezbollah, which is Shiite Muslim, has kept relentless pressure on Saniora’s administration, which is backed by Sunni Muslims and smaller Christian allies. On Tuesday, roadblocks by Hezbollah and its opposition allies brought most of Lebanon to a standstill.
The showdown has forced Lebanon’s patchwork of religious groups and factions to chose sides – as they did during the devastating 1975-90 civil war, during which about 150,000 were killed.
Then, it was mostly Muslims against Christians. Now, it’s a power struggle pitting Sunnis against Shiites with Christians split between the two sides. The turmoil also has made Lebanon a stage for wider Middle East proxy struggles with Iran and Syria backing Hezbollah, and Washington and allies hoping to keep Saniora in power.